Friday, December 15, 2017

"Holding the Fort" by Regina Jennings

Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1)When dance hall singer Louisa Bell loses her job, she decides it's time to check up on her reckless brother at Fort Reno, but when she arrives, she's mistaken for the governess Major Daniel Adams has been waiting for. His two daughters are growing up faster than he'd like, and he needs a refined womanly presence to take them in hand. Miss Bell is hardly what he was expecting, and there's definitely something about her that doesn't ring true--but there's something about her that won't let him send her packing, either. Louisa hadn't intended to masquerade as a governess, especially with her lack of education, but it's employment and allows her to keep an eye on her brother. How hard can it be faking an upstanding governess for a few days? Or weeks? Or months?

I really enjoyed the story (though I had some small initial hesitation, even having loved the author's previous works--nothing good ever comes from lying about who you are). But it's delightfully funny, it's sweetly romantic, and it's a marvelous example of grace--everything I've come to expect from the author, while at the same time tackling a difficult subject.

Anytime the main character is masquerading as someone they're not, no matter how innocently begun, you know trouble is coming. The truth will out. Louisa certainly should have told Daniel the truth right away, but I like how the author treated it (it wasn't nearly as painful as I feared it would be). Daniel deserves some credit for that--he's a man of grace, who suspects she's not all that she seems. He knows she has secrets, but while he doesn't know what those secrets are, he has observed enough of her character and heart to love her regardless. Between his grace, his authority, and an unexpected reckless streak, he's a supremely attractive hero.

It was fun to recognize a smidgen of the history included in the story; I didn't know a thing about Fort Reno, but I am familiar with General Sheridan and have read enough about the Indian Wars and frontier forts to recognize commonalities across the board (not always things to be proud of . . . but history cannot be changed at this point). I can't wait for more stories about the fort--I hope to hear more about Louisa's brother and the learned lieutenant.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Fort Reno
1. Holding the Fort

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Mary Connealy Series Guide

If you've read a few of Mary Connealy's books, you may feel like you've missed some backstory, or maybe a name seems really familiar . . .well, it's probably true, on both accounts. Though each of her series can stand alone, there are a lot of connections and cross references, where characters occasionally travel from one trilogy to the next. So with the conclusion of another trilogy, I thought it a great time to compile a guide to reading her series, for my benefit, as well as yours.

Each collection of related series is listed in chronological order (as best as I can make it), with any connected novellas that I know of inserted in order as well. Important characters - particularly those who are related or connected to characters in other books - are listed, so if you see multiple people with the same last name, even if in different series, you can bet they're related.

Lassoed in Texas Trilogy (Lassoed in Texas, #1-3) Montana Marriages Trilogy (Montana Marriages, #1-3) Sophie's Daughters Trilogy (Sophie's Daughters, #1-3)
Lassoed in Texas - Montana Marriages - Sophie's Daughters Connections

Lassoed in Texas
1. Petticoat Ranch ~ Sophie (Edwards), Clay McClellan
2. Calico Canyon ~ Grace (Calhoun), Daniel Reeves
3. Gingham Mountain ~ Hannah (Cartwright), Grant Cooper

Montana Marriages
1. Montana Rose ~ Cassie (Griffin), Red Dawson
2. The Husband Tree ~ Belle (Tanner), Silas Harden
3. Wildflower Bride ~ Abby (Linscott), Wade Sawyer

Sophie's Daughters
1. Doctor in Petticoats ~ Beth (McClellan)
2. Wrangler in Petticoats ~ Sally (McClellan)
3. Sharpshooter in Petticoats ~ Mandy (McClellan), Tom Linscott, Mark Reeves, Emma Tanner-Harden, plus cameos of most of the above mentioned people in the three series

"Sophie's Other Daughter" (published in Hope for the Holidays Historical Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Laura (McClellan), Ike Reeves

"Texas Tea" (published in With This Spark Historical Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Libby (Cooper), Luke Reeves

"A Bride Rides Herd" (originally published in The 12 Brides of Summer, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Betsy Tanner-Harden, Matt Reeves

"Sweetwater Bride" (originally published in Lassoed by Marriage novella collection, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Tanner Harden.

"His Surprise Family" (originally published in Spring Into Love Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ Silas Harden, jr.

"Hope for Christmas" (published in Hope for the Holidays Contemporary Collection of e-novellas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection) ~ to quote the author: "Tanner Harden the IV (or maybe V or VI) a contemporary great-great-great-however many great grandchild of Belle and Silas Harden"

***(The novellas are in order as close to chronologically as I can figure, and they are all about descendants of the aforementioned heroes and heroines)

Out of Control (Kincaid Brides, #1) 35481363 No Way Up (The Cimarron Legacy, #1)
Kincaid Brides - Trouble in Texas - Cimarron Legacy connections

Prequel: "Closer than Brothers: Surviving Andersonville" (published in With This Kiss Historical Collection of e-novellas) ~ Luke Stone, Dare Riker, Vince Yates, Jonas Cahill, Big John Conroy, Seth Kincaid, Callie Stone

Kincaid Brides
1. Out of Control ~ Rafe Kincaid
2. In Too Deep ~ Ethan Kincaid, Audra (Halsey)
3. Over the Edge ~ Seth Kincaid, Callie (Stone)

Trouble in Texas
1. Swept Away ~ Luke Stone
2. Fired Up ~ Dare Riker
3. Stuck Together ~ Vince Yates, Tina (Cahill), Jonas Cahill, Missy (Yates)

"Runaway Bride" (novella published in With This Ring?) ~ Big John Conroy, Carrie (Halsey)

Cimarron Legacy
0.5 "The Boden Birthright" ~ Chance Boden, Veronica (Chastain) (free novella prequel)
1. No Way Up ~ Heath Kincaid, Sadie Boden
2. Long Time Gone ~ Justin Boden, Angie (DuPree)
3. Too Far Down ~ Cole Boden, Melanie (Blake)

Cowboy Christmas (Wild West Weddings #1)Tried and True (Wild at Heart, #1) The Accidental Guardian (High Sierra Sweethearts #1)
Wild West Weddings (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. Cowboy Christmas ~ Elijah Walker, Annette (Talbot)
2. Deep Trouble ~ Gabe Lasley, Shannon (Dysart)

Wild At Heart (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. Tried & True ~ Kylie (Wilde), Aaron Masterson
2. Now & Forever ~ Shannon (Wilde), Matthew Tucker
3. Fire and Ice ~ Bailey (Wilde), Gage Coulter

High Sierra Sweethearts (unrelated to other series thus far)
1. The Accidental Guardian ~ Trace Riley, Deborah (Harkness)
The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old West

Lone Tree, Nebraska Novellas
"The Advent Bride" (originally published in The Twelve Brides of Christmas, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection)

"Homestead on the Range" (originally published in The Homestead Brides Collection, reprinted in The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mary Connealy's "Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection"

The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old WestAt last, a good selection of Mary Connealy's novellas are under one cover, so when I want to reread the Lassoed in Texas--Montana Marriages--Sophie's Daughters series, I can find all the subsequent novellas without digging through stacks of volumes (or worse, trying to find them in Kindle copies). All had been published elsewhere originally, so a few of these I've already read, but there were some that were new to me that I enjoyed finally getting to read.

"The Advent Bride" is one that isn't actually connected to any of the author's novels (that I can tell), but it's a sweet story about a teacher finding a way to reach her student--and the student's father--with a puzzle box. You know those kids who can't sit still and make trouble rather than do their work, but you know that it's all a plea for love and attention? Where you know somewhere is a simple key for unlocking the sweet and clever and attentive child you know they can be, if only you can find it? That is Simon. And since I've known a couple Simon's, I could really appreciate this story. "Homestead on the Range" takes place near the same town of Lone Tree, Nebraska as "The Advent Bride," so while they don't have the close connections of the other stories, they do share a setting.

"Sophie's Other Daughter" might just be my favorite, being about the last McClellan girl and the rambunctious Reeves family. Grace and Daniel, as well as Sophie and Clay, all have a larger role in this one than the other related novellas, and it's fun to see them again, especially now that Grace has her girl. It does not surprise me in the least to read about Luke Reeves's success in "Texas Tea"--he always was the wily one. However, I'm glad to see he's far from heartless, and that Libby Cooper can find love!

"A Bride Rides Herd" was a fun addition to the stories about the Reeves and Harden families (with cameos of certain friends and relations from the other books and stories). I loved the humor of this one, as the three small children appear to be trying to kill themselves at every turn, while their two babysitters have the supposedly simple task of keeping them alive. There is a video game based on this precise concept.

Tanner's story in "The Sweetwater Bride" was creative and fun, and quite fitting for the Harden family. I loved the old longhorn bull. Considering how disastrous mail order bride schemes could go, Si really doesn't end up too badly off in "His Surprise Family," though I understand his disappointment and lack of trust, considering his bride's significant lie of omission.

"Hope for Christmas" has pretty much everything to love about one of Connealy's stories--the humor, the cowboys, the strong family ties--but in an updated, modern setting. Modern legalities add a fun (well, fun but also frustrating, given the ease of abuse of the law,) twist to the story. It's quite fitting to the Harden family.

One thing I would have preferred--I wish they were printed in chronological order. It's clear that Sophie's Other Daughter comes first, followed by Texas Tea,  A Bride Rides Herd, The Sweetwater Bride, His Surprise Family, and [definitely last] Hope for Christmas. And of course, The Advent Bride and Homestead on the Range go together, so I'd have preferred them next to each other at either the beginning or end, while instead they were all mixed up.

Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for a free ARC. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Related novels (all which come before these short stories, and thus highly recommended reading):

Lassoed in Texas
1. Petticoat Ranch
2. Calico Canyon
3. Gingham Mountain

Montana Marriages
1. Montana Rose
2. The Husband Tree
3. Wildflower Bride

Sophie's Daughters
1. Doctor in Petticoats
2. Wrangler in Petticoats
3. Sharpshooter in Petticoats

Monday, December 4, 2017

"The House on Foster Hill" by Jaime Jo Wright - dual timelines with dual suspense

The House on Foster HillWhen her husband died two years earlier, Kaine Prescott's pleas to have the suspicious death investigated further came to nothing. In an effort to start a new life, she buys a house across the country sight-unseen--and regrets it the moment she sets eyes on the eerie, long-abandoned house. It doesn't take long before she learns snippets of the house's dark history--a history that comes to haunt her. A century earlier, a young woman is found dead on the property, and Ivy Thorpe, daughter of the town doctor and medical examiner, seems to be the only one who cares who the woman was. With the help of a man from her past, she begins investigating the woman's death, but will it mean her own?

Dual timelines can really be hit or miss with me, especially if one timeline is noticeably slower or less interesting than the other. However, this one is really well done. With how complex the story is and how interwoven the plots are, I can't imagine being the author and charting it all out, but it's perfectly balanced, with equally intense story lines. And unlike some other dual timeline books, the two timelines in this one have not just the same setting, but the same tone--somewhat dark and ominous--which helps the story flow. Others I've read have been rather jolting when switching from one timeline to the other, but these fit together really well.

I'm glad that there wasn't a specific timeline that I liked significantly more than the other; both women had their issues, but both were easy to root for. Ivy is a very nontraditional heroine, being somewhat obsessed with--not so much death, as the lives that the dead had lived. She helps her father with postmortems without cringing, a highly unusual activity for a girl in 1900, and that alone makes her stand out. Kaine was easier to relate to, being a modern woman near my age. But more importantly, her profession, her passion, the thing that makes her herself--her ability to help women out of cycles of abuse--is turned on its head when she finds herself in the same position as those she's helped. She recognizes it, and intellectually she knows all the steps, yet she isn't able to fix herself. While I've never known abuse like that, there have been times when I intellectually know all the right steps to get out of my problem yet can't seem to implement them without outside help--an opportunity for God to reveal His strength through my weakness.

Given the subject matter, this is a fairly dark book, especially for Christian fiction, yet it is surprisingly faith-filled, and it offers significant hope even in the most horrific of circumstances. I really enjoyed it; it's fast-paced, intense, full of suspense, and takes a number of surprising turns.

Thank you Bethany House and NetGalley for the free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

December 2017 Christian Fiction Releases

The year is wrapping up with some fascinating stories, from a legal suspense to a historical romantic comedy, from a period drama to a dual timeline suspense.

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill, #2) Holding the Fort (Fort Reno #1) The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection: Love Is a Lighthearted Adventure in Eight Novellas from the Old West
The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen (Bethany House); Tales from Ivy Hill, book 2

In the continuing mini-series-esque story of the Regency-era village of Ivy Hill, the ladies of Ivy Cottage are seeking answers about the past and learning to find hope for the future.

Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings (Bethany House); Fort Reno, book 1

When a dance hall singer arrives at Fort Reno to visit her brother, she's mistaken for the governess the commandant was anticipating for his daughters. How hard could it be to teach the girls proper lady-like behavior?

The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection by Mary Connealy (Barbour)

At last, a collection has been made of Mary Connealy's  many novellas, most of which are about the descendants of the characters in her Lassoed in Texas and Montana Marriages series.

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright (Bethany House)

This dual timeline suspense tells the story of a house's previous owner--and the murder that happened on the property--and the current owner who is now experiencing the fallout of the house's past.

Imperfect Justice by Cara Putman (Thomas Nelson); Hidden Justice, book 2

When her client dies while supposedly trying to murder her own family, an attorney seeks the truth to save her client's remaining daughter from a potentially deadly home situation.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cara Putman's "Imperfect Justice" - advocating for the helpless

Imperfect Justice (Hidden Justice #2)Attorney Emilie Wesley is waiting at the courthouse to help get her client out of an abusive situation at home, when word comes in that she reputedly shot her two daughters and herself, with only the youngest surviving in critical condition. Emilie is sure that her client couldn't have done such a thing, not when she was so close to getting out--and the woman's brother, Reid Billings agrees. They look into the case, hoping to prove differently and grant the girl's custody to Reid, but there is precious little evidence to help them. Can they find justice for the dead woman and protect her daughter from the girl's father?

This legal suspense is very different from the first book in the series, focusing on a totally different aspect of law, yet they share the same love of justice and desire to fight for those who can't fight for themselves. In this case Emilie works with women trapped in abusive situations, and you can feel the author's heart for these women in her writing, as well as the toll these cases take on the advocate--not all end happily.

Emilie and Reid make a cute couple. To me, Reid's financial business was a little boring, but I'm really not into finances. However, I did feel that the characters were well-developed, with their professions, interests, and groups of friends, and even if Reid's work isn't my thing, it fit with his character and proved he has a significant life outside of his interactions with Emilie.

I've been enjoying this group of supportive, young lady attorneys. It's nice to read about women who, though they could be rivals, choose to build each other up instead. I'm hoping the next book will be about Caroline!

Thank you Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for a free e-book. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.

Hidden Justice
1. Beyond Justice
2. Imperfect Justice
3. Delayed Justice (2018)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Splickety SPARK: Picture Perfect

For those who love to read and have no time (or who love to write and enjoy a challenge), I've discovered a wonderful publication called Splickety, a magazine devoted to flash fiction (stories of 500-1,000 words, or roughly one page). There are three different imprints--Havok (sci-fi and fantasy), Spark (romance), and the original Splickety (adventure, mystery, suspense, etc). Each issue is on a theme, and November 2017's is comprised of stories revolving around romance within the arts, titled Picture Perfect.

Each edition features a popular published author (often those who publish Christian fiction), one story by an editor of the magazine, and the rest are written by anyone who has the courage to submit. This month features a story by Kristi Ann Hunter (author of the wonderful Hawthorne House series), and one by yours truly--my fifth story published with Splickety.

The blurb:
Art touches us. It speaks to the human spirit and inspires us to greater things. And what’s greater than love? In November’s Spark Magazine, you’ll find romance at the museum, ballet, and library. Sparks fly between a crystal maker and an apprentice. Opera reunites a musician with his lost love. And make sure you check out feature author Kristi Ann Hunter’s historical story about a clumsy woman and the painter she dreams of. Whether you’re looking for the beauty in color, joy in dance, or truth in music, you’re sure to find it in this Picture Perfect issue.

My story, "Song to the Moon," is strongly tied to Dvorak's opera Rusalka, specifically the Rusalka's aria, "Song to the Moon," where she is asking the moon to tell the prince of her love. My tale, though, is more about the actress who portrays the Rusalka and her love among the musicians than the opera itself. I've included the inspiration for the story--"Song to the Moon" performed by Renee Fleming (with English subtitles).

I'd encourage you to check Splickety out, whether for love of reading or love of writing (or, regarding this episode, a love of the fine arts). Some stories are lighthearted, others serious--a quick and entertaining assortment.

Hard copy & digital:

Kindle edition: